Public Image: Melinda Jackson

While attending school at Campbell University, Melinda Jackson set her sites on moving to Los Angeles and working in the entertainment industry. The road to becoming an entertainment publicist was not an easy one—Jackson moved across the country, without knowing a soul, with $500 and several gift cards to her name.

Upon her west coast arrival, the determined North Carolina native held three simultaneous internships, all of which were unpaid. She catered, worked retail, and did freelance public relations work to support herself, all the while networking and searching for the perfect job. Jackson’s hard work eventually paid off, and she landed a spot at a prestigious entertainment publication firm in Hollywood.

Melinda Jackson currently resides in LA, where she works as a senior publicist at JAG Entertainment. Her day-to-day duties are centered on landing her clients publicity for all aspects of their career. She’s handled PR campaigns for everything from movie premieres to charity poker tournaments, celebrities like David Cassidy, Grammy-winning artists, and prominent music conferences like the annual NAMM show.

Get In Media: How long have you been in your current position?

Melinda Jackson: I have been with JAG since August 2011 and have loved every minute of it. I was recently bumped up to a senior publicist and am in the process of transitioning into the new role. It’s going to take off some of the grunt work—doing mailings, invoices, making copies, etc. I’m excited to focus on PR and I feel like my clients will benefit if I can focus in on that strictly, as opposed to doing assistant work and helping out around the office.

GIM: What attracted you to working JAG versus others?

MJ: I really liked the idea of a smaller firm because I feel like at bigger firms, your clients get lost, you get lost in the company. My parents are entrepreneurs, so I really like a family environment, and that’s what I feel like I’m in right now. Things are a lot more hands-on there. I feel like in the time that I’ve been there, I’ve gotten a lot more experience than what an assistant or junior publicist would get at a bigger company.

GIM: Walk us through some recent projects that you worked on.

MJ: Our client Janis Ian just won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album, and she is about to go on another U.S. tour. I contacted all of the journalists who work in the markets where she’s playing at and said, “Hey listen. Now she is a Grammy-winning artist. Do you want to do an interview while she is in your town?” Doing all of the press recaps for that is a huge undertaking, especially because she beat out Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Rachel Maddow, and Ellen DeGeneres. I’ve been focusing on trying to get as much press coverage of her win as I did when I was trying to get press surrounding her nomination.

I also just wrapped up artist relations for the 2013 NAMM [National Association of Music Merchants] show in Anaheim, California, which is possibly my favorite event of the year as I am a total music nerd. I even got to hang out with Slash for a bit, which totally made my life. For NAMM, we do all of the artist relations. We get a huge list of all the vendors that are going to be there and we call them and ask, “Who are your artists that you have coming with you this year? What are they going to be doing at your booth? Are they going to be performing or doing the autograph signing?” From that, we put together a schedule for all the press saying, “Slash is going to be doing a signing here.” We also orchestrate the VIP entrance because people like Slash need security so they can go on the show floor and not get mobbed by thousands of people. We don’t do a lot of press for that, we focus more on “Oh, we have 75 VIP musician clients coming on Saturday so what do we need to do? What’s the schedule? Where does security need to be? What are they going to be doing? Should we call and have press go over there? Are they willing to do interviews?” Anyone big that’s coming has to come through us.

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GIM: So every event/client is different?

MJ: Sometimes we’ll be hired for an event and we’ll be on for press, sometimes we’ll be celebrity-wrangling, and then sometimes we’ll get hired for an event and do all their press, red carpets, deal with all the celebrities, etc. We really are a full-service PR firm. We’ll get hired on for different projects. Some projects only last a few months and some last longer. It’s ever-changing and always exciting.

“Sometimes I am at an event and I really question why they let me, this geeky Southern girl, even be in the same room as people like Dave Grohl or Robert Downey, Jr.”
GIM: Where do you find the journalists and outlets when you are trying to approach people to give your clients press?

MJ: Publicists have access to a few cool databases that can give you the contact information to basically anyone you could ever want. This is an absolute lifesaver! Also, without my iPhone and iPad, I would be nothing. If I’m trying to get tour press for a client and they’re playing somewhere in the middle of Missouri, for example, and I know nothing about the area, we have a great database called Cision that I use. It basically has every journalist ever on it so we go there and create a list. Also, I like to contact the venues that my artists will be playing at to see if they have any media relations in the area, because a lot of the times it’s easier if it’s like, “Oh we always work with this newspaper. I’m sure they would like to write something about it.” That always helps, as well as doing research on my own. If I can’t get a hold of a journalist, Twitter is always a good tool to use. Sometimes Facebook if it’s not too impersonal.

GIM: What classes or schools prepared you for your current career?

MJ: I went to Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., where I majored in Communication Studies. I didn’t chose a concentration, so I took mostly journalism and production classes. I was actually the entertainment editor on my university’s newspaper and I interned for a semester at the local newspaper. Having that journalism background helps me understand what journalists might like best in a pitch. I also did marketing for my mom’s company while in school, as well as work-study in the Sports Marketing department at Campbell.

GIM: What was the most helpful thing you did that prepared you for your career?

MJ: I think having two extremely hardworking entrepreneur parents helped me a lot. They instilled a crazy work ethic in me and made me believe that if I want anything, I have to work my ass off for it. Without that, I don’t think I would have lasted as long as I have in LA. Also, they were pretty strict when it comes to some things, so I always had to work hard to convince them to get whatever I wanted. This definitely helps when I am pitching a client to a publication.

GIM: For someone looking to do PR, do they need to be somewhere like L.A. or New York?

MJ: It really depends on what kind of PR you want to do. I am from North Carolina, and a lot of the people that I graduated with back home do things like tech PR or pharmaceutical PR because that is big in North Carolina. If you want to do entertainment PR, the places to be are New York or L.A.

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GIM: What is the best part of your job?

MJ: The best part of my job is helping clients reach their goals. After doing months of press for a client, seeing them get nominated for a major award like a Grammy is almost as exciting as being nominated for the actual Grammy yourself. Also, going to all of the fun premieres and events can be really great. Yes, they are as awesome (generally) as they look! I get paid to hang out with some of my idols. I can’t see how it gets much better than that. Sometimes I am at an event and I really question why they let me, this geeky Southern girl, even be in the same room as people like Dave Grohl or Robert Downey, Jr.

GIM: What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to deal with in your career?

MJ: Sometimes dealing with journalists or somebody’s management or assistant and trying to get an answer is tough. You’re on a deadline, the journalist is on a deadline, everyone is on a deadline. When someone doesn’t understand or care that you are on a deadline, that’s really frustrating.

GIM: For people interested in pursuing a career similar to yours, what would your recommendations be?

MJ: I have people messaging me on social media every day asking how to become a publicist and I tell them to get as much experience right out of the gate as possible. Do internships while in college. If you want to move to a different city after you graduate, try to do an internship there one summer to see if you like it and gain as many contacts as you can. Find someone who has your dream job and reach out to him or her for advice. Read everything you can get your hands on. Write as much as possible. Find freelance work! It won’t be the most money in the world, but it will help you gain experience.

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